Hailee Steinfeld and a fantastic cast of characters populate Kelly Fremon Craig’s excellent directorial debut The Edge of Seventeen
Audiences don’t need movies to tell them growing up is hard, but the films that define many discuss that very subject. It’s easy understanding why Kelly Fremon Craig’s directorial debut, The Edge of Seventeen is compared to the work of John Hughes, because it’s destined to be a classic teens will look to for solace. Sharp, witty, and all too authentic, The Edge of Seventeen reminds you of all the pain and drama you espoused during your own high school years.
Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld) has had a rough couple years after the death of her father. The only one she finds comfort with is her childhood best friend Krista (Haley Lu Richardson). But when Krista starts dating Nadine’s perfect brother, Darien (Blake Jenner), Nadine enters a tailspin.
Movies about teens usually present the challenge of criticizing how the characters are presented. It’s one thing to write about high school, but many films fail to capture the true essence of what high school is – the drama and selfishness – without turning the audience off. Or, worse yet, turning the audience into crotchety old people watching the antics of “damn fool kids” who need to pull their pants up. The Edge of Seventeen is a special film that captures all the feelings I felt growing up: the awkwardness, feeling that no one truly understood me, and, worst of all, that I was an “old soul” too cool for the plebs in my high school.Image courtesy of STX Entertainment
Nadine’s life involves the typical elements of a teen drama: a mother content to yell than understand (wonderfully played by Kyra Sedgwick), a good-looking older brother, and a crush way out of her league. What Fremon Craig does is focus on Nadine’s feelings, and how her blinding drive to cover her pain with theatrics puts her at a distance from people who truly want to know her. Nadine’s friendship with Krista and Erwin (Hayden Szeto, stealing every scene) are fluid and constantly evolving. Shades of Frances Ha present themselves regarding how making new friends at any age is hard, but none more so than when you assume the friends you make as kids should last forever; the idea that friends can’t change, and that you should never have more than one best friend!
Pitch perfect as Nadine, Hailee Steinfeld captures you with her opening monologue discussing her suicide options. Nadine is selfish and dramatic, but you can’t say she’s unfeeling. She feels EVERYTHING. Steinfeld’s funny, awkward, sweet and mean, jumping between emotions constantly. Her scenes opposite Szeto are cute without being about romance, although the two feel that at different times. She’s also allowed to be sexual – something movies aimed at teen girls shy away from. A subplot with a high school crush could have preached, but like the rest of the film it remains authentic without exaggerating.
Fremon Craig’s script is filled to bursting with heart and emotion. It’s enough to say it’s funny, but it’s funny in relatable ways. Nadine has trouble coping with the loss of her father, and her grief manifests through her perpetual fear of abandonment. The rest of the characters are all fully-realized people with their own perpetual fears. Her character, Mona, could be another man-crazy woman, but it’s soon revealed she’s just as lonely as Nadine. Sedgwick, especially, takes the suffering mother trope and turns it into someone who exists than just acts. She gives it her all, running and screaming after Steinfeld. It’s a relationship any girl fighting with her mother recalls.
Nadine’s friendship with Krista takes a backseat in the overall scheme of things, but Haley Lu Richardson is fantastic (a hybrid of Nikki Reed and Zoey Deutch). Nadine and Krista meet as children; Krista is described as dressing like “a small, elderly gentleman” and soon transforms into a beautiful young woman. What Fremon Craig captures is the jealousy every girl hates to have at her best friend, but does. She captures the guilt of jealousy and the issues that arise from being the one who’s less popular/beautiful/confident.
The film’s strongest heart comes from Nadine’s relationship with her older brother. I’m repeating myself, but Blake Jenner is fantastic as Darien. Nadine describes him as a person who “radiates confidence,” making her role the one who “believes [those people] should all die in an explosion,” Darien’s job is the hardest – maintaining order in the house. As an eldest child myself, one often called to solve household issues, his character connects with me the most.
Over 90% of The Edge of Seventeen saw me nodding my head. Kelly Fremon Craig beautifully captures the difficulty of becoming an individual. Nadine is the girl I once was and (frighteningly) a lot of the girl I still am, and she’ll connect with a lot of women. Some moments are just too real, and if you’ve ever gone through adolescence there’s not one moment you don’t cringe at because Fremon Craig forces you to confront your own becoming.
Filled with complexity, humor and tenderness, and packed with phenomenal performances, The Edge of Seventeen is one of the year’s best films!
The Edge of Seventeen arrives November 18th